Modern strategies to promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the workplace 

In today's episode, we discuss strategies to promote and address diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace. We explore the benefits of DE&I both for the business and employees and the role of leadership in promoting and addressing DE&I.

We also talk about building a DE&I culture in workplaces that may not have that type of culture. Finally we discuss challenges of bringing DE&I in the workplace.

This is part 2 of our 3 part series on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Watch to listen to:

Part 1: What is diversity, equity and inclusion: Key differences and impacts to business today

Part 3: How corporate social responsibility and diversity in the modern workplace builds better businesses

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Karl Yeh:

Today, I'm joined by Janelle St. Omer, Regional Vice-President with Benevity, and we're going to be talking about diversity, equity, inclusion in the workplace. So Janelle, what are the benefits of DE&I in the workplace?

What are the benefits of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the workplace?

Janelle St. Omer:

Absolutely, Karl, thank you, and hi, everybody.

So I think there are a couple of benefits, one from the company perspective and two from the employee perspective.

Bigger Talent Pool

From a company perspective, you're looking at things like having a bigger talent pool.

I think

when companies are limited in their thinking or their mindset towards a diverse and equitable, and inclusive workforce, they're limiting the top talent that they can actually recruit to their organization.

There's talent that exists everywhere.

And too often, companies find themselves in the, "Well, we can't find talent from a particular group," kind of conundrum.

I actually don't feel like that conundrum is real. I feel like when a company looks to really change their talent acquisition strategy, looking at how they're building out a talent pipeline, there [00:01:30] is top talent from many, many different groups that exist out there.

Increased employee engagement and trust

I think the second thing in terms of a benefit is increased employee engagement and trust. Employees want to see themselves throughout the organization.

  • They want to see themselves in their leaders.
  • They want to see themselves in their mid-level managers.
  • They want to see themselves in your more junior employees.
  • They want to feel like they are part of the company.
  • They want to feel connected.

    And sometimes it can be difficult to feel connected to your workplace and have that affinity to [00:02:00] your company if when you look around you don't see anybody that looks like you.

There are particular challenges that employees might have.

And if they don't have anybody that they can speak to within their company who represents their particular group, oftentimes that can cause a disconnect for the employee towards the workplace.

And in terms of building trust and really recognizing that employees want to trust their workplace.

If you look at the Edelman Trust Barometer that was released last year, right now, companies are the most trusted [00:02:30] institution.

So employees, consumers, customers, they want to trust the companies and the work that they're doing.

So they're trusting companies to do the right thing.

Diversity leads to more innovation

And having a workplace that is focused on diversity, that instills equity, and provides an inclusive environment where employees feel like they belong, is the right thing, even outside of the bottom line impact.

And I think there's perspectives around innovation, having diverse teams.

We tend to think about diversity in a very limited way.

We oftentimes [00:03:00] tend to think about it in terms of gender, sexual orientation, religion, or race.

But diversity is such a vast topic.

We could be thinking about neurodiversity.

We could be thinking about diversity of backgrounds, diversity of perspectives, diversity in terms of thinking style.

So there are so many different ways that we can think about diversity.

I think that when companies really allow their employees to show up in the workplace being the best version [00:03:30] of themselves, that's where the magic can really happen.

That's where innovation happens, when employees don't feel like they need to conform to a particular way of doing something, and they can challenge the ideas, they can challenge the status quo.

Those are the companies that embrace that, those are the companies that are taking their organizations to the next frontier, recognizing that where we are today is not necessarily where we're going tomorrow.

And the same things that we've done today are not going to be what our organization needs to take us to the next level.

So if we [00:04:00] embrace this diversity in terms of the richness of what we can bring to our organization, it's only going to make us better in terms of our products, our services, our processes.

Better decision-making

And I think better decision-making as well.

Because when you think about individuals who might be diverse, they are able to bring a broad array of perspectives to the conversation.

When you're making decisions in a vacuum for your employees and there's a disconnect between the experiences of those making the decisions versus the experiences of those who are impacted by the decisions, [00:04:30] there can be quite the disconnect if there isn't that commonality.

So if you think about individuals who might be from an equity-seeking group, they're able to bring a perspective, perhaps, on certain topics, whether that be how your marketing materials are designed, in terms of actually having representation in your marketing materials, recognizing that perhaps your technology is accessible for all individuals who might be accessing it.

If you've never experienced something that it's difficult for you in times, I'm not saying impossible, [00:05:00] but it's difficult at times for you to then say, "Hey, this is something that we need to consider because oftentimes we just don't know what we don't know."

So it really does improve decision-making, and which leads to improved performance. And of course, then that results in stronger business results and profits.

Employee benefits

I think for the employee perspective, the benefit really is employees feeling an affinity to the company that they're working with, employees feeling connected to each other, employees feeling that safety in the workplace where they're not fearing microaggressions from their colleagues [00:05:30] or dealing with microaggressions from their colleagues.

They don't feel concerned about questioning someone in a more senior position than them.

They don't feel concerned about reporting a microaggression or reporting a discriminatory issue that happens in the workplace because they fear that it won't be taken seriously.

So it builds that safety where employees do feel included, where they feel as though who they are as an individual, and the talent and the skillset and the expertise that they bring to the role matters.

And they are valued regardless [00:06:00] of their race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or neurodiversity.

That they matter and they're valued as an employee.

Those are the real benefits that you get the best out of your people if you're providing them with an environment where they feel like they can be their best and they are valued at all levels within their company, where they can see themselves at all levels within the company.


Karl Yeh:

When you talk about seeing yourself in all levels of the company, I do want to ask you about leadership.

Because I remember in several different organizations, yes, [00:06:30] I saw myself in the organization, but when I saw who our leaders were, it wasn't as diverse as everybody else. How does that, how does the leadership impact an organization and the movement towards diversity, equity, inclusion in any business?

What is leaderships role in diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace?

Janelle St. Omer:

Leadership impacts it greatly, Karl.

You need to have that focus at that leadership level of individuals who recognize that [00:07:00] there are individuals who bring different backgrounds, expertise, perspectives to a workplace, and they're creating their work environment.

They're creating a culture that from top-down, bottom-up, individuals are celebrating that.

What we often find is when there's not full buy-in at the top in terms of the leadership, then perhaps your middle-level managers, there are challenges at that level with how they're showing up with their employees.

Perhaps there are microaggressions in the workplace, perhaps there are bullying situations [00:07:30] in the workplace that are happening at that mid-level manager level.

And then, for your more junior employees, what's the desire for them to stay within your company?

A junior employee typically wants to excel and ascend through the ranks of your corporation.

But if they feel like all of their efforts would be in vain because who is promoted or who gets to the top or not any individuals that look like them, then they start to feel de-motivated or there's a disincentive for [00:08:00] them to continue to work hard.

Likely, you'll end up seeing those individuals leave your organization and go to work for organizations where they do feel like they have equal opportunity to ascend to whatever way they want to within their career and be that best and highest versions of themselves.

Leadership should reflect diversity of employees

So, it can be very difficult when a leadership group is particularly homogenous because there is a disconnect then between how the leadership, those who are making the decisions, how they understand and can identify with their employees who might be from a very diverse group.

There's a major disconnect in the decision-making, and that often manifests itself in a culture that's not necessarily a positive culture or one that employees want to be a part of [00:08:30] .

And that's where you start to see issues or subcultures that start to develop within your company where you have managers, perhaps, that are going in one direction or not creating or focused on the things that matter from an employee engagement standpoint.

Karl Yeh:

[00:09:00] So Janelle, how do we go about promoting and addressing diversity, equity, inclusion in the workforce?

What are some strategies that organizations can take?

Strategies to promote and address DE&I in the workplace

Janelle St. Omer:


So I think that it's multifaceted.

There's no one-size-fits-all model for creating diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

I think that it starts from the top, I think it needs to be infused in the middle, and I think it needs to be driven by the bottom.

I say that from a variety of perspectives.

Review talent acquisition and retention strategies

The [00:09:30] first being looking at your talent acquisition practices, so your hiring practices, your promotion practices, your employee retention practices.

Having that leadership buy-in from the top to recognize that you are going to make a concerted effort to find and attract talent and to make your organization appeal to diverse groups, that is one strategy that I think impacts all of those different areas.

Because once you're able to then attract that talent, how [00:10:00] then are you retaining that talent?

How have you created that culture of inclusion and belonging where those employees want to stay with your organization?

And if they want to stay with your organization, how then are you providing the opportunities for them within your workplace to be promoted, to feel valued for the work that they're doing, to feel a sense of safety and security where there aren't microaggressions in the workplace that they need to face on a regular basis.

Are you providing that equitable work experience where if an individual works hard, all things being [00:10:30] equal, same experience, same qualifications, same level of work, that they are up for the same number of promotions as another individual within their workplace?

Those are all the things that a company needs to think about.

Create space for cultural shifts to take place

Janelle St. Omer:

I think the second thing when you talk about strategy is creating those spaces for a cultural shift to take place within your company.

If you're already there, that's fantastic.

Some companies are not quite there yet.

I think the best companies that I've [00:11:00] certainly observed have really looked at how they can infuse diversity, equity, inclusion into their culture. It's a part of their DNA.

So it's not a checkbox exercise on a piece of paper in terms of numbers or quota that they must hit, but it really is something that they do and they live every single day.

So every employee from the top down to the bottom up recognizes and lives, in essence, this creed where this is the company that we are, this is how we show up.

This is how we [00:11:30] show up in our products.

This is how we show up in our services.

This is how we show up in our policies and our procedures.

This is how we show up with in terms of our internal interactions with one another.

This is how we show up in the community.

It becomes part of the culture and talks about engaging their employees in a series of listening sessions.

ADP, another one of our clients, did the same.

Along the research and conversations I've had over the last year, this was one of the biggest things that companies did that were different.

They created this culture, this [00:12:00] space where this empathy could be built and these silos could be broken and connections could actually be built where individuals are seeing themselves as individuals in the context of the workplace.

They're stripping away the preconceived notions that they have about each other and challenging themselves and creating this self-awareness where they can challenge their biases and show up better in situations.

If I'm feeling uncomfortable in a situation or interaction with a colleague,

  • Why am I feeling that way?
  • Where does that come from?
  • And what do I need to do to get over it, in essence, myself?
  • Is it real or is it perceived? Is it based in the biases?
  • Is it based in some of the behavior that perhaps I actually need to unlearn?

[00:12:30] So these are the questions that we need to ask ourselves in the context of the workplace. That's the cultural aspect of it as well.

Review how your company operates

I think the last piece is really how a company operates.

And when I talk about operationalization, in terms of your products, your services, [00:13:00] are they accessible?

Do your marketing materials reflect a diverse population?

On your website, have you actually provided screen readers for individuals that might be vision impaired or hearing impaired?

How are you basically showing up as a brand in a way that attracts as diverse a population as possible, recognizing the differences that exist within individuals everywhere?

How can they engage with your brand?

So when you think about that in terms of your contracts, how they're written, your [00:13:30] verbiage on your website, and all of these things.

I think when companies take a step back and take that diversity equity, inclusion lens to their operations, you'll see a very different company in many cases emerge.

I think that that's where having individuals who can bring those fresh perspectives really do benefit the company because they challenge all of us.

And we all need to be challenged in our thinking from time to time, but they challenge us to think differently about some of the pieces and perhaps bring some awareness to things that we might not be aware that we're not [00:14:00] even aware of.

Karl Yeh:

So Janelle, you were talking about culture and building that culture.

Now, it's definitely much easier if your organization is already culturally progressive, top-down everybody's bought into [00:14:30] it and building out the processes, it's part of your product system.

But what if you are, let's say, a CSR professional in an organization or a DE&I professional in an organization that doesn't have that type of foundation, how would you go about building such a culture?

How do you build a DE&I culture in workplaces that haven't had it?

Janelle St. Omer:

Connect with interested and like-minded employees

I think understanding your company, understanding the motivations of your leadership, understanding the needs of your employees, [00:15:00] understanding, perhaps, where there are gaps in the employee experience.

I think one of the things that we've observed over the last several years is that

many of the movements that have happened within companies, the formation of employee resource groups, they've come from individuals who are very, very passionate about driving that change within their workplace.

So whether that be your formal role as a CSR individual or a DE&I individual or even an individual has no connection to either one of those teams within your workplace, [00:15:30] just thinking about why it matters to you and building a case around it in some cases, galvanizing and connecting with your other employees who might also be interested in driving a particular issue.

I think there's a lot of power in harnessing the passion of employee resource groups within a workplace.

And I think having conversations with your leadership to really understand what are your organizational goals? What does your brand stand for?

What do you want to be known for in the world? [00:16:00]

Doing your research to identify, are there gaps with consumers, are there gaps with employees?

If you have a talent shortage, if you have a talent retention issue, if there are business challenges that you think can be solved by bringing forth more of a diverse and equitable and inclusive experience into your workplace, those are the kinds of things that make your leaders perk up.

They want to understand if there are business challenges, how those business challenges can be solved.

So I think [00:16:30] doing your research and having conversations with a variety of folks within your company to really understand, are there subcultures that exist within your company?

Are there individuals, perhaps, that will be your advocate, be your champion, that you can work with on really thinking about how you can build out that case.

And then again, from that grassroots perspective, thinking about how you can partner with employees who are really passionate about these things.

I think you don't have to start big. You can start small.

So maybe it's an event, an awareness [00:17:00] event that you want to start one year.

And that awareness event then leads into a series of conversations that are being had.

And those series of conversation then leads to a formation of an employee resource group.

And once a few employees have come together to form this employee resource group, perhaps then taking that to your leadership and saying, "We've identified a need. We, as employees, have come together to form this group.

This is the reason we formed this group.

This is the gap that we think that we're filling as we form this group.

This is the benefit that we think is going to [00:17:30] bring to this organization."

And getting that buy-in, getting that budget, and getting that support to really roll it out.

Because I think companies and leaders, they understand that diversity is important within the workplace, but oftentimes it can be difficult to start.

Or in some cases, maybe they don't understand, and that's when some of those things around biases come in.

And sometimes it might require you having very difficult conversations where you do need to challenge the status quo internally.

So if you find yourself in that position, well, that's [00:18:00] where you need to be armed with data. I think in many cases, the data speaks for itself.

I come back to the talent pool.

If you have a talent pool, let's just say in North America, 50% of the talent pool in North America is black, indigenous, and people of color.

However, your current employee base are only representing 5% of that.

There are only 5% of employees who are black, indigenous, or people of color.

Then right there you have a major disconnect because your organization is not reflective of your world and the talent [00:18:30] pool that's currently available.

And the question that then needs to be asked is, why?

Karl Yeh:

We talk about all the different strategies, but what are some of the challenges that you've either faced or have heard about or worked with different clients in terms of bringing that DE&I into the workplace?

How would you address some of those challenges too?

Challenges of bringing DE&I in to the workplace? How to address them?

Janelle St. Omer:

DE&I Challenge: Getting buy-in

I think some of the challenges that I've heard are getting the buy-in.

I think the buy-in can sometimes be difficult. [00:19:00]

If a company is not ready to start the journey, if there are biases or basically an attitude of, "If it's not broken, don't fix it," then it can be very difficult to build that buy-in or to get leadership to understand why something is important.

So that's definitely a challenge that I've heard.

And I would give some of the similar strategies that I just provided.

DE&I Challenge" Resistance to change

I think other challenges that we sometimes hear about [00:19:30] is the resistance to the work.

Because in many cases, if this has not been a part of your culture, then the shift is hard and change management can be difficult, bringing employees along and bringing them on board to the change that's happening, if they're used to doing things... I mean, this is how it can be for all things that are related to change within a workplace.

So if an employee feels resistant to a particular change, if they feel like all of a sudden the privilege, perhaps, that they had [00:20:00] in the workplace with these changes they're no longer going to have, then you are going to get that resistance.

And that's where providing that openness or challenging those conversations, challenging those assumptions, challenging those biases, and encouraging employees to think about the experiences of all of their colleagues and why it's so important to embed this into your culture.

That's where some of that change can start to happen.

But I do think in many cases, the change curve can be a really difficult thing to overcome [00:20:30] if employees are resistant and also your senior leaders are resistant.

Karl Yeh:

And so Janelle, do you have anything else to add in terms of promoting and addressing diversity, equity, inclusion in the workplace?

Janelle St. Omer 

I just say start. If you are currently at the beginning of your journey, begin, begin the journey, and recognize that it's going to be a journey.

Recognize it is going to be an evolution.

And might you stumble? Yes.

Might you get it right the first time? No.

Might you face resistance? Absolutely.

Does that mean you stop? No, it does not. [00:21:00]

Because I think if you think about companies and them being the most trusted institution, if you think of individuals who are people living in the world, I think that companies have a tremendous impact they could potentially have breaking down some of the barriers and increasing the empathy and the understanding, the education and awareness of employees under the context of their company. Individuals go out into the world and they can then live the things that they've just learned.

If you think about breaking down racial [00:21:30] tensions, as an example, when you're having these conversations in your workplace and employees are experiencing these aha moments, guess what's going to happen.

They're going to go to their family.

They're going to go to their friends.

They're going to have these conversations and then spread that awareness, spread that education.

And that's when we can start to create that ripple effect.

If that ripple effect is far-reaching, then perhaps that's where change can really happen.

Because then you have individuals who are empowered with the knowledge and the expertise, then perhaps to [00:22:00] start challenging the systems that are at play.

And once we start to challenge and dismantle some of the systems that are at play, then that's when we're going to get to the place to have real systemic change.

I think that there's real power of the individual and real power in the company context to infuse this culture of DE&I that can have such a profound effect outside of the workplace.

Question of the day

how have you promoted diversity, equity, inclusion in your workplace? Any strategies and tips? How about any challenges? 

Connect with Janelle St. Omer on Linkedin